The Writer as Anthropologist: Teaching Ethnography Through Literature

  • Ilina Jakimovska Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, University St. Cyril and Methodius


Literature and ethnographic writing have at least one thing in common - they are both about ‘putting things to paper’. As observed by Clifford Geertz in his Works and Lives: The Anthropologist as Author (Geertz, 1988), the concern with how ethnographic texts are constructed has for a long time been considered irrelevant, even ‘unanthropological’. As a consequence, important aspects concerning the style, imagery and metaphor of great anthropological works have not been included in the standard teaching curricula.  This paper tries to see things from a reverse Geertz perspective: how can contemporary prose be used to expand ethnographic knowledge, as well as refresh the sometimes stale scientific discourse. The few chosen examples serve as illustrations of the great potential of fiction storytelling to challenge dominant modes of ethnographic writing, and to teach anthropological concepts and ideas.